Don’t you love it when a non-existent plan comes together? Wesley Schultz of The Lumineers ponders how their humble ambitions and brand of rustic Americana are making them massive.
When Wesley Schultz was nine-years old, a Beethoven impersonator came to his school to teach the joys of music and a New York Times reporter caught it for posterity. Also captured were the young New Jersey resident’s hopes for the future, with the 1992 article informing us that Wesley, “who wants to be an artist, said, ‘I spend a lot of time on my drawings and it turns out good ‘cos I’ve been practicing a lot’.”
Whether the faux-Ludwig inspired a move from crayons to six-string is unclear, though Schultz’ hard-working artistic ethos was already in place. It would be two more decades before he became a star but it has stood him in good stead.
His Denver-based band The Lumineers have recently become an ‘overnight success’ after seven years’ hard graft, with their contagious single ‘Ho Hey’ achieving ubiquity in 2012. The stage is set for an even bigger year to come. Not that impending fame could possibly go to his head at this point.
“It must be tough when you get your dream job when you’re 20 or 21,” the frontman ponders without a trace of irony. “I’ll be 30 this year so it’s easier to appreciate what’s happened... and also see it for what it is.”
For him, the sold-out shows and appearances on Letterman and SNL aren’t overawing, more “a head-scratcher”. You imagine there’s a big bag of salt constantly sitting at the side of the stage as they do their stripped back, stamp-and-clap thing.
“And that ‘bag of salt’, as you put it, is a lot easier to have if you realise that it’s not all to your own credit. We happened to be there, working hard, at the right time. But that doesn’t mean we deserved all this, it’s just fortunate the way it’s played out.”
Founding members Schultz and drummer Jeremiah Fraites had a connection long before The Lumineers was born. Fraites’ older brother, Joshua, was a childhood friend of the singer and when he passed away in 2001, the pair channeled their feelings of loss into separate music projects. It would be another few years before a mutual friend brought them together in New York. Wesley was initially hesitant.
“I wanted to play with this guy,” he recalls. “But he said, ‘Look, you can’t play with me now unless you’re willing to let Jeremiah sit in.’ And I said ‘I don’t think so’! It was very hard to get musicians to show up, so I didn’t want to have another person who was just a pain in the ass. Not because I had anything against him musically or anything, just because of the simple fact that musicians are unreliable.
“I begrudgingly agreed to get together with him and we ended up really clicking. It kinda stuck, but it wasn’t anything planned, and that’s kinda the story of this whole band.”
They were quite a different proposition in their early Brooklyn days.
“We were toying around with our own songs a lot, playing a heavier, almost prog kind of music.”
Hopefully all recordings were saved for the inevitable Lumineers box-set 20 years from now?
“We saved them all, they’re in a vault!” he laughs. T
he cost of the east coast holding them back, a move to Denver and the recruitment of Neyla Pekarek on cello via-a Craiglist ad led to their current sound.
Comparisons have been made with former tourmates Mumford & Sons and they’ve been tied to the folk revival that’s infiltrated arenas around the world. Schultz brushes it off.
“We come from different backgrounds to all of these bands. We’re just interested in writing songs, and that’s how we dress them up. We try to play ‘open air’ as much as we can. We play a lot of living rooms and house shows and that tells us a lot about how surprised people can be by musicians playing instruments without amplification, without technology – special effects basically – being involved. People want to believe in something, to hear something real. They’re searching for that because everything can be so tweaked and manufactured.”
Conversely, technology has played a huge part in getting their music heard.
“We’re living in the modern world and utilise those things as tastefully as we can. The coolest part about that for us was that a lot of our breaks initially came from – again an unplanned thing – a photographer of ours taking a house show video. He just happened to have his camera because he was shooting something else that day, he didn’t tell us he was filming, he just took it, put it online. And then two Christmases ago, my younger brother said, ‘That video has like 3,000 hits!’ I didn’t believe him. That was such a large number! I don’t know what the new video has now, probably somewhere around 20 million. It’s crazy how that little video exploded for us, got us our management, and it was all based on YouTube. This didn’t exist that long ago, it’s wild.”
From off-the-cuff clips shot in college clubs to red carpets; The Lumineers are up for two Grammys in the Best New Artist and Best Americana Album categories this year. Quietly confident?
“No, not on those type of things, we don’t have any control over it,” he says finally. “But we’ll definitely be walking the carpet, the band and myself are looking forward to that. Maybe somebody will even give us some suits!”